Marketing Indie Music – how to avoid failing before you even start

This question is pretty typical in group after group:

I want to share my music with the world, and believe it to be capable of breaking many barriers…
But I lack the ability to find the right avenues in which to get it out there…

The answers I give are commonly something like:

What are you marketing and who to?

Mostly I never get an answer. People post replies like “Use my Distro (dis)Service as they do it all for you” or “Google/Facebook Ads”. Several dubious posts about how many Plays their #1 best luv you longtime program will deliver and we are done for three days – whereupon it all happens again.

If I do get a direct response from anyone, the answer is rarely very clear, which is why the outcomes for whatever marketing they do are at best random, commonly very poor indeed.

Painting Pictures

I have been developing Jake Cropley who came to me with some great songs but no sense of what to do with them, even who he was in that process. Over 12 months we have built the foundations that he needs (as well as a first album). The proof of this working is that with no promo past his socials, every time Jake does anything anywhere, people come up talking about offers. Without that Artist Development work, he’d still be just another talented boy with a guitar. There are no promises about where Jake goes or gets to from here but he has the right start.

Anyone seeing Jake gets visible/feelable answers, so therefore they react with their own answers to:

  1. Who is this?
  2. What is he about?
  3. Where is this happening?
  4. What they need from Jake to take action?

UPDATE: Jake is currently on his third tour with The Wiggles, commonly playing sideman to Anthony on side projects as well.

These questions answer the 4-Pillars at the end of this article on Making it in Music.

Sadly most acts do not have this happen for the reason that they have never considered the idea of building & working a strategy into what they do. They think it is all…

Castles In The Air

As is my way, rather than blandly giving you the path, I will warn of the holes to not fall into first. Maybe you can recognize some of these in yourself and bring them to the light of day for revision:

  • I am special becuse I am me – ok fine, I can’t debate that at a biological level. But this is not primary school, this is business. If you can’t quantify how you are special beyond falling back on cliches like “oh my little daughter sings like an angel”, there is an issue in that you don’t have an identity. Or if you do, you haven’t become aware of it yet in any conscious sort of way.
  • I am talented – Adolf Hitler was undoubtedly an intelligent man. Would you let him run your country? (hopefully the answer is no) Talent itself is not enough. Talent is only the start. Without skill and experience, let alone direction and a team, talent is commonly a hinderance in this ugly world.
  • I made a record – congratulations. Does that mean that you are owed fans? I hear there is a new Bros record, are you excited? Probably not. Existence of a record does not mean that people want it. Sad but true.
  • I am everywhere, I will get noticed – there is a little old man dressed in brown you pass every day on the way to getting your coffee, did you ever notice him? If you did, did you leap in his path and give him your undivided attention for five minutes, not to mention $29.99 for his latest CD?
  • I sound like Beyonce – oh no. Please don’t. It is not because I am not really a fan but becasue there is a Beyonce. She does Beyonce rather well. That always leaves you the loser in that equation. This is rather related to the first option here but I think worth pulling out as I often see people trying to ride into their heaven by being someone else and thinking that opens the gates.

Seventh Heaven

Let’s recap those 4-Pillars and how we can revise our answers above:

  1. Develop as an Act: Artists are made, not popped from thin air on a Tuesday evening. Artists take ages to develop themselves into a product that is clearly defined. Initially, Britney Spears and Christmakeitstop Agonyera seemed pretty same-same but they were not. The average person may not understand that there is any difference between Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Dio but there is. ZZ Top may have adjusted some of what they did based on Billy Idol but no one mistook them for Billy Idol. At no time were any of these acts anything but unique. This is Artist Development.
  2. Develop a Backline: Artists without a backline never make it. It is like a one-man army attacking a castle full of Schwartzneggers. There is a reason that Chuck Norris never made that movie. Chatter and marketing on the DAW says you DIY but that never meant that you DOA (do only alone). The Sex Pistols were the poster children of DIY but they were John, Steve, Paul, Sid, McLaren, Westwood and several others whose names I do not know (incl the “little old lady” who helped Lydon learn to sing). The act you see is not only the singer who seems talented but all the people underneath. Without that backline, an act cannot function.
  3. Develop Where You Are: While tempting to just be lazy and pop your song through a Distro (dis)Service that claims they do it all for you, being on Spotifry, iTunz etc will not break you. You lack specificity of place & time. Huh! The Sex Pistols got famous around The Marquee and 100 Club. The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads got famous around CBGBs. Where you can be found matters. Being everywhere means that you are nowhere. Being attached to a specific space & scene etc is vital as you begin. People need to come to you, not the other way. While that is a bit more difficult these days, there still has to be a grass roots place that you do your thing. If you don’t perform live to real audiences, you are just about deciding to fail from the start. The number of acts who “break” without any live work is effectively none. While there are stories, commonly they are fibs to build a mystique.
  4. Develop Fans: Note that this says that you need to develop fans. The assumption that people everywhere from 8-80 will flock to you the moment you pop your fabulous hair out the front door, is a fantasy – one commonly built by the Backline as it works in Rock & Roll. Billy Idol was doing pretty small shows until “Rebel Yell” went on MTV. That video was deliberately designed to show the fans how to react to William & Steve when they came to town. That was developing fans. Billy & his Video Director (Backline) were priming people to want to like his act. And boy did it work. But only because the first three pilars were in place.

Watch The World

Billy Idol
Billy Idol

Let’s break this apart:

  1. When people saw “Rebel Yell” on TV they knew exactly who & what Bill Idol was. He wasn’t Elvis. He was Billy Idol! – Identity
  2. They saw his band which also meant they knew he had people behind him. People who believed in him. The fact his song was on radio and TV meant that other people believed in him. That made it ok to like Billy Idol. – Backline
  3. When the Billy Idol show came to town people knew where that would be and went along to have fun but also to be “in the thing” – Location
  4. The video showed people how to react to this sneering Brit who seemed enamored of this bottom-shelf Bourbon Whiskey from down South. This helped people to get into the show – join in the Billy Idol thing – when they were there – Fans

Suddenly the world was watching Billy Idol, who despite having been in Punk/Rockabilly band “Generation X” and having released a single and solid album (also with a great video for “White Wedding”) was not “everywhere” until he had all his ducks lined up.

Sure, luck had some to do with it but Steve, Billy, Keith Forsey (the Record Producer), etc. had done the right work to build on Billy’s innate talent. This is why it “suddenly” happened.

Modern Times

Now I expect that many of you will be saying “That is not how it is now in the modern world“. You know what. I kinda get you, talent like Billy Idol’s is rarely rewarded these days. Oh sorry, you meant that with the internet on computers and computers in your glasses, you can’t afford to make a video, let alone work with a guitarist with great hair or a Mix Engineer. Piffle.

Nowhere above did I say you have to do exactly those things. It is psychology and humans really haven’t changed (gotten lazy maybe but the basics are eternal). The fact is that the internet is so easily available you can make a working video with your fridge in less time than it takes you to digest this article (yer fridge has internet right). While most of those old studios closed down, Record Producer types are everywhere. You are reading this on the site of a Mix Engineer & Record Producer right now. I even have a form to help you tell me what I need to know to get us talking!

All I hear over and over are reasons to not do. How about developing some courage and working on reasons to do and getting going. Waddya got to lose wearing dead man’s shoes?

Bon Voyage

I am assuming that seeing you got to the end of the article (and aren’t just down here looking for my address to post me a hand grenade – don’t coz I get pretty Pantera when people do that) that you are wondering how to answer those core questions and develop a working strategy without falling into the lazy but oh so attractive holes I warned about above.

Firstly let me congratulate you. Most people have bailed already. They have chosen not to even show up at the starting line. Yes, some will still be standing about but once the race starts most will run everywhere but the finish line. Many will even be too cool to run (bin there, done that).

The questions are tricky to answer (or you probably ain’t doin’ it right). This does not mean that it is not worth doing. Remember the story about Jake up top. He came to me with no real direction – actually he did have a direction but it was not his path, at least not the way he thought. In our time together I started to see who & what Jake really is. From there we started work on a project that really resonates with who he is and doors are opening because he instantly presents as the “real deal” because he feels comfortable in himself with what he is doing. Authenticity cannot be faked.

It takes time, it is like therapy. Like therapy, you often need someone outside of you to help you see what you know inside but are not managing to get clear on the surface.

This is what I do, I would love to hear from you. It will take a bit of time and courage. Oh yeah, and money as my family needs to eat like yours. Nothing happens without commitment (which explains why my gitar still don’t play itself).

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